This week on the Opinions Page, we're running a series of Christmas remembrances from members of our Editorial Advisory Board. As I was looking through past holiday-related columns I ran across this column from Dec. 19, 2000. It remains one of my fondest Christmas memories...
I normally try to stay away from sentimental reminisces in this column. They make me cry, and weeping seldom goes over very well in the newsroom.
But holiday memories, for some reason, stick in my mind with vivid clarity. So, I just can't help it. Here is one of my favorites:
In 1978, I flew home from college at the University of Missouri for a two-week holiday break. I'd made arrangements for my Dad to pick me up at the airport in the Twin Cities early Christmas Eve night and take me home to Brainerd.
I was eager to get home. I hadn't seen my girlfriend in four months and I was looking forward to visiting with my family and some good home cooking.
But when I hooked up with my Dad at the airport he asked if it would be all right if we took a detour on the way home and stopped by my grandparents' house in tiny Hewitt, Minn.
At first I was reluctant. But I hadn't seen Grandma and Grandpa Sellnow in nearly a year, and I felt guilty about that. So, we went.
I'm glad I did because although I didn't know it at the time, it marked a turning point in my life.
To me, the holidays are all about tradition and ritual. Traditions and rituals that we grow up with; traditions and rituals that we pass on to our children; and new traditions and rituals that we make or fall into by accident as years pass and families grow and blend.
When I was a child we almost always maintained the same holiday schedule. About two weeks before Christmas my Dad, brother and two sisters and I would head out into the woods near our farm, often with a horse or two, and cut down a Christmas tree. Then, on the evening of Dec. 23, Dad would take us out to look at Christmas lights in town. When we got back we found gifts from Santa under the tree and crumbs where the cookies we'd left for him used to be. (Mom told us that Santa delivered some gifts on the 23rd because there was just no way he could haul all of those presents in one trip.)
Dad would turn out all of the lights in the living room, except the ones on the Christmas tree, and light a big, home-made Christmas candle. Then, he'd sit us all down around the candle and read the story of the Nativity.
Next, we'd begin ripping open our presents in a frenzy -- paper, ribbons, pine needles and beagles flying. It was over in about three minutes flat.
The next evening we'd go to my Grandma Truesdell's house in Staples, where we'd feast on spaghetti.
Finally, we'd head to Hewitt. For the first 12 years of my life, the big Sellnow Christmas gathering was at my grandparents' farm.
Sometimes the Christmas tree was in the kitchen, and sometimes it was in the living room. But these things were the same every year: There were always lots of people and there was always lots of laughter. Grandma always gave each of us a small gift -- even after the family grew large enough to populate a small town. There was always plenty of pop and sweet red wine, strong coffee, home-smoked German sausage and counter tops covered with bars, fudge, cookies and cake.
But most of all, there was always a sense of love and warmth and togetherness in that house. Family.
By the early '70s Grandpa and Grandma had moved into a house in town, but they continued to host a Christmas family gathering. I hadn't been to one for several years when Dad and I showed up at the door that Christmas Eve night in '78.
"Come on in, boys," Grandpa said. "What can I get ya?"
That night was memorable because it marked the end of a long, cherished tradition for me.
Not long after that Grandpa suffered the first in a series of strokes that put him in a nursing home and then took his life. Many of us moved far away. Most of us started families of our own and created new holiday schedules that did not include trips to Grandma's house.
Over the years, my children have come to depend on certain traditions, too. Some are inspired by my childhood -- cutting down a tree, for example. Others were inspired by my wife's family traditions -- eating pizza on Christmas Eve and opening presents in an orderly (and excruciatingly slow) fashion, for example.
We've also created some of our own traditions. Each child gets a new theme ornament on tree decorating day, and when we can we open our gifts on Christmas morning. But we also get together with our extended families.
This year, for the first time in ages, we will celebrate Christmas with my siblings and their families on Dec. 23rd. Let the wrapping paper fly!